Money may not buy you happiness or love but it might buy you more time to find them. A grim discovery by a research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) says that the poorest in America lives between 10 and 15 years less than the wealthiest 1 percent. The study also shows that the average life expectancy of the lowest-income classes in America is now equal to that in Sudan or Pakistan.
“There are vast gaps in life expectancy between the richest and poorest Americans,” says Raj Chetty, the lead researcher from Stanford University.
Researchers set out to gain a better understanding of the relationship between income level and lifespan. Harvard Researchers analyzed 1.4 billion tax records belonging to Americans aged 40 to 76 over a 15 year period from 1999 to 2014.
Although it may seem that the gap would be widest in a place like New York City, where income inequality is obvious, the study says otherwise.
Researchers were surprised to find that even among lower income individuals, those living in more affluent areas such as, San Francisco or New York, lived longer than the poor in places like Gary, Indiana or Detroit, Michigan.
New York City has one of the narrowest gaps in life expectancy between rich and poor nationwide (4.8 years between the richest quartile and the poorest quartile, compared to a national average of 7). Life expectancy for the poor in NYC and its suburbs is the highest (81.8 years) among the poor of the nation’s 100 largest cities. This puts poor New Yorkers’ life expectancy above the national mean for all Americans—78.8 years in 2013, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.
The reason? One might ask.
Well, New York City is one of the most heavily taxed in the nation, and a good portion of those funds go to social services for low-income New Yorkers. The study found that one of the factors most strongly associated with longevity for the poor was government spending.
New York’s The Department of Social Services receives the second-largest share of tax dollars after the Department of Education. “Medical assistance” is the third-largest expense category citywide ($4.74 billion in 2015).
However, researchers believe geography might also play a role in promoting healthy behaviors, which explains why poorer individuals in wealthier places might live longer. Following a healthy diet and healthy weight, stop smoking and exercising are more likely the cause for the connection between income and longevity than just access to health care.